Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Beth Cato, author of the Clockwork Dagger series. She's currently celebrating the release of her prequel story, The Deepest Poison – out on Tuesday! When she's not being banished to a desert island, Beth can be found at www.bethcato.com.
Beth, thanks for joining us! First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Illogical fears ... spiders. I hate spiders. And driving on freeways, or driving in the dark. This desert island is spider-free, right? And totally lacks a freeway system? As for good stuff, I love cats, and baking, and feeding people. I would wrestle Fozzie Bear.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I like to write stories that are fun yet have some extra depth.
The Deepest Poison is a prequel story to my novel The Clockwork Dagger. The whole series came about because I wanted to write a steampunk fantasy take on Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship with a healer as the lead. I hope people would want to take my books because they provide a potential escape from survivor warfare, starvation, and dysentery. That's the true sign of a good read.
I can’t argue with that! So now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
One childhood favorite? Yowch. I'll say The Berenstain Bears Go to School. I still have the copy I was given at age two. It's worn to a frazzle but still intact. I loved the whole Berenstain Bears series and have pretty much all of them published into the late '90s. It reflected my own family since I had my parents and a big brother.
Hmm, I may have to check those books out for my own children, since they too are a big brother and little sister! Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I read it when I was just getting the courage to write regularly and start submitting, and that book emotionally devastated me and made me think, "I want to write like that." I'm still not there. I don't know if I ever will be.
For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
My all-time favorite nonfiction comfort book is Anguished English by Richard Lederer. It starts a hilarious series that's all about awful headlines and grammar goofs, and this first book features the infamous "World History According to Student Bloopers." I think I can use a good laugh on my desert island.
And here’s a link to some of those bloopers so that our readers can have a laugh too! Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. If I read a mystery, it tends to have speculative elements. Not so with the utterly charming Flavia de Luce series by Mr. Bradley. His heroine is an 11-year-old girl in 1950s Britain who has a passion for chemistry--especially poison--and sets about solving murders in her quaint British village. I adore these books and have gotten my mom and numerous others hooked on them. Plus, Flavia's poison know-how might come in handy if the fellow residents on the isle are not good neighbors.
And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
I'm pretty sure The Martian by Andy Weir is going to be a new science fiction classic. It makes highly technical science into something that is approachable and dramatic. It's a darn good read.
Oooh, and I gather a movie is on its way … Anyway, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
For my one song, I don't want something obnoxious ... so I choose "Small Two of Pieces" orchestral version from the Xenogears soundtrack!
My one film will be The Empire Strikes Back, and my other item of choice is a Walmart Supercenter. Because let's be honest, the desert isle likely already has a Starbucks.
Now, why has no-one ever thought of taking a giant sells-everything store to the island before? :-) Before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Off the coast of Central California, then! When I was a kid I hoped to live someplace like Morro Bay when I grew up, but I think an island nearby would do quite nicely.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thanks for having me!